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Launch Services: Bringing the Future to Outer Space Launch Services: Bringing the Future to Outer Space

Published on MHI Graph (December 2014 Issue)

INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGY[ TRANSPORT & SPACE ]

Launch Services: Bringing the Future to Outer Space

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Based on the Technology for Manufacturing Rockets, MHI Supports Research and Observations of Outer Space

Technologies developed in space is now very much a part of everyday lives. For example, satellites are instrumental in forecasting weather, monitoring disasters, and observing the global environment, and people on the Earth benefit greatly through having unmanned supply spacecraft (Note) transport essential materials to the International Space Station (ISS).

MHI is one of only a few companies involved in launch programs, from manufacturing to the launching of the rocket -- a critical component for space transport. This article examines how MHI accurately delivers a customer's payload to a target orbit on a target date and time.

  • The HTV unmanned supply spacecraft, known as "KOUNOTORI," was independently developed in Japan to transport cargo to the ISS and is carried aloft by the H-IIB launch vehicle.

Providing Integrated Services from Manufacturing to Launch

MHI has played a lead role in rocket manufacturing since the dawn of space development in Japan more than 40 years ago. In 2007, JAXA transferred production and management of the rocket launching business to MHI. At that time, MHI began offering launch services. The comprehensive services include rocket manufacture, program management, and execution of launch campaigns. MHI's deep experience in launch vehicle development and launch operations has given Japan's launch services a competitive edge in the global market. Once MHI receives an order from JAXA, a satellite manufacturer, or a satellite operator, design commences on a rocket best suited for the intended purpose. MHI manufactures most of the major spacecraft components, such as the first- and second-stage rocket engines and fuel tanks. Produced with the utmost precision, each critical piece is continuously examined manually and repeatedly verified against the massive data pool that MHI has accumulated. Coordinating the various steps necessary for a reliable launch enables MHI to complete the missions of launch vehicles without a hitch while reducing costs.

Image: MHI Launch Services
Manufacturing critical rocket components, such as engines and fuel tanks
At the Tobishima Plant, rocket engines, fuel tanks, and other major components are brought together. The Tobishima Plant can manufacture four to five launch vehicles per year.
Photo: Workers bore thousands of holes by hand into the joint that connects the first-stage fuel tank to the engine
Workers bore thousands of holes by hand into the joint that connects the first-stage fuel tank to the engine. Rivets secure the pieces together.
Photo: Combustion testing is conducted on engines at the Tashiro Field Laboratory in Akita Prefecture to confirm performance.
Combustion testing is conducted on engines at the Tashiro Field Laboratory in Akita Prefecture to confirm performance. The temperature of the flame blast from the engine reaches 3,000°C.
Photo: The high-performance LE-7A rocket engine serves as the main engine for the first stage. Ready approximately one and a half years before the launch date, the LE-7A is installed in the rocket body after testing at the plant.
The high-performance LE-7A rocket engine serves as the main engine for the first stage. Ready approximately one and a half years before the launch date, the LE-7A is installed in the rocket body after testing at the plant.

Reaching the Target Orbit at the Specified Time

The airframe of the rocket is transported to the launching site at the Tanegashima Space Center. There, work to ready the launch vehicle for lift-off continues under MHI supervision. The rocket is joined with the fairing that stows a satellite into a single spacecraft. Upon completion of the final inspection, the spacecraft is moved to the launch pad, where it is prepared for the countdown. Taking such factors as weather conditions into consideration, MHI gives the "go" to launch and monitors data until the satellite is separated from the rocket.
MHI has earned a solid reputation for maintaining launch schedules. Aided by extensive expertise in managing large projects with multiple partners, MHI has a record of punctual launches -- launches that aren't rescheduled after the start of launch operations -- except for a small number postponed by weather.
MHI provides a lifeline for the space industry by reliably transporting cargo to the specified location at the specified time.

Photo: Specially designed containers convey rocket components to the Tanegashima Space Center
Specially designed containers convey rocket components to the Tanegashima Space Center. The rocket, supported in an upright position for the first time in the vehicle assembly building, receives solid fuel rocket boosters and other components.
Photo: With technology and hope, the rocket takes aim for outer space.
The fully assembled H-IIA Launch Vehicle Flight No. 23 moves to the launch pad by the mobile launcher transporter "Dolly," awaiting the final "go."

A New Page in the History of Rocket Development

Japanese rocket development leaped into the global arena in the 1990s with the H-II. A Japanese launch vehicle designed for larger satellites, the H-II had its maiden space voyage in 1994. Development of the next-generation H-IIA a few years later sought to minimize launch costs. Another model, the H-IIB, was developed to carry large-sized cargo, including the HTV. It originally took flight in 2009.
Now, Japanese rocket development has entered a new phase. Upgrades to the H-IIA enabled Japan to meet a diversified range of domestic and overseas satellite launch requirements, as well as enhance the international competitiveness of the launch vehicle. It also marked the first step in a new national flagship launch vehicle currently being developed with a maiden test launch scheduled for 2020. Provisionally named the H-III, this first new rocket in about 30 years targets enhanced cost competitiveness and greater launch capacity flexibility accommodated by adjusting the number of solid fuel rocket boosters.
The H-III will not only benefit the Japanese government but also meet diversified global needs, strengthening MHI's competitiveness in global markets.

Milestones to H-III

1994 H-II, first Japanese rocket, was developed.

The H-II was a two-stage rocket developed entirely with Japanese technology. The first stage had a high-performance engine using hydrogen as fuel. A total of seven rockets were launched.
Overall length: about 50 meters
Launching capacity: about 4 tons

2001 H-IIA, one of the major models, was developed.

The H-IIA is a major Japanese rocket based on H-II technology. The H-IIA first flew in 2001, and in 2006 flew with its maximum launching capacity of about 6 tons. MHI has been in charge of launch services since the 2007 flight of H-IIA Flight No. 13.

Overall length: about 53 meters, Launching capacity(Note): about 4-6 tons
2009 H-IIB, which delivers important cargo to the ISS, was developed.

The H-IIB is the rocket used to lift the H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV), also called "KOUNOTORI," an unmanned supply spacecraft, with greater launching capacity to support a wide range of needs.

Photo: HTV "KOUNOTORI"
HTV "KOUNOTORI"
Overall length: about 57 meters, Launching capacity(Note): about 8 tons
2015 (providional) H-IIA upgrade for commercial satellites

The H-IIA is upgraded to support the expanding commercial satellite market. It can bring a satellite much closer to geostationary transfer orbit, extending the satellite's service life and making satellite design more flexible.
Overall length: about 53 meters
Launching capacity(Note): about 4-6 tons

2020 (providional) H-III, a new national flagship launch vehicle, is being developed.

The H-III, the first new rocket in 30 years, is being developed to improve performance and enhance cost competitiveness. The design supports a wide range of needs by adjusting the number of solid fuel rocket boosters.

Overall length: about 60 meters, Launching capacity(Note): about 2-6.5 tons
  • Launching capacity to geostationary transfer orbit

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